With the premiere of Miss Americana on Netflix, Taylor Swift has become a major contributor to the dialogue around eating disorders. As one of the most well known celebrities of the past decade, Swift’s platform is powerful. While the documentary covers wide ranging aspects of her career and life, her personal reflections on how both personal and professional elements contributed to her eating disorder is particularly powerful. Her openness around a subject as personal and private as this, makes strides in encouraging continued dialogue around eating disorders.
Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate
The documentary highlights the trajectory of her career from her preteen years as a singer-songwriter and follows her through August 2019. Through old footage along with current interviews, viewers see Swift’s hard work, personal beliefs, struggles, and growth as an adult within a very unique bubble. In watching the film myself, I was particularly struck by her comments about her beliefs. She said from a very young age, she held the belief that it was important for her to “do the right thing” and “be a good girl” and that she was “trained to be happy when you get a lot of praise.” The combination of these beliefs along with her work in an industry that is hyper-focused on appearance, success, and surpassing your previous projects, created circumstances in which an eating disorder can develop.
Eating disorders do not discriminate — no one is immune — money and fame do not protect someone from struggling with an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or any mental illness. In fact, being in the public eye and facing constant scrutiny creates a unique experience of stress. Facing judgement for everything you do, say, wear, or who you are — especially from a young age — is a large contributing factor of stress.
Fame’s unique impact on mental health
Unfortunately, people in the public eye who seemingly “have it all” may have confusing feelings about being depressed, anxious, or struggling with a mental health concern. The confusion exists because if they “have it all” how can they possibly feel sad or anxious? It can be perceived by others that they can’t possibly struggle, because they have money, fame, and success. But as mentioned, eating disorders — among various mental health conditions — don’t discriminate.
Oftentimes, the outside trappings of the “good life” can get in the way of accessing the help one needs. Fortunately, with increased awareness and more people in the public eye speaking out, the de-stigmatization of mental illness is possible. With people like Taylor Swift speaking out about her eating disorder and struggling with the impact of negative feedback, an increase in awareness is possible, likely increasing the number of people reaching out for help.
Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder
While we can’t necessarily protect our favorite celebrities from mental illness, we can help those around us. Being well educated about mental health and knowing warning signs, is the best way to make an impact. While signs and symptoms of many illnesses can be found on the Talkspace blog, let’s explore the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder.
There are common warning signs and symptoms to look out for with eating disorders, these signs can be emotional, behavioral, and physical.
Emotional and behavioral signs
- Attitudes that indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control of food
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
- Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
- Appears uncomfortable eating around others
- Food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group [e.g. condiments], excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch)
- Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
- Any new practices with food or fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism)
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
- Frequent dieting
- Extreme concern with body size and shape
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
- Extreme mood swings
- Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
- Stomach cramps, other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)
- Menstrual irregularities — missing periods or only having a period while on hormonal contraceptives (this is not considered a “true” period)
- Difficulties concentrating
- Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low white and red blood cell counts)
- Dizziness, especially upon standing
- Feeling cold all the time
- Sleep problems
- Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
- Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
- Dry skin and hair, and brittle nails
- Swelling around area of salivary glands
- Fine hair on body (lanugo)
- Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
- Muscle weakness
- Yellow skin (in context of eating large amounts of carrots)
- Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
- Poor wound healing
- Impaired immune functioning
Keep in mind, only a professional can diagnose an eating disorder, but watching for the early warning signs will assist your loved one in seeking professional help. For further information on eating disorders, check out these resources:
- NEDA: National Eating Disorder Association (Helpline: 800-931-2237)
- Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- Academy for Eating Disorders